Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hmmm....Something to Think About!

Too often, especially in early childhood education, ideas are cycled around a general idea or area, and by the time they are used by most, the meaning behind them has been lost or simply diluted to the point that it is difficult to see the real "point" of the activity.

I'm guilty of this as well.  It's too easy and tempting to see an idea and repeat it without really questioning why we are doing the activity in the first place! 

Questioning the purpose behind the "cute" and "fun" activity is an important part of teaching!  Questioning why someone else is doing an activity with the children isn't an attack on them, at least not in my view.  And, to be quite honest, I often question because I LIKE the idea, I'm simply struggling with articulating why it should be done...or perhaps wondering if there is more to it that could be explored!

Questioning things is my way of learning more, of defining my beliefs more clearly and of challenging myself to think about things in a different way.  Perhaps I just teach in an environment where questioning why you are doing an activity is pretty common.  It may not be overt, but it is certainly under the surface of many interactions with other teachers, administrators and parents.

It is nearly impossible for me to plan activities or find activities that others have used or designed without questioning what the children will learn from the activity and what I would like the children to gain from this (short and/or long term). 

At one time, it was truly enough for a preschool teacher to say that an activity was simply "cute" or "fun" or "loved by the children" and this was enough to justify doing the activity.  Many more of us are teaching preschool in public school systems. 

This is simply nowhere near enough of an explanation for doing an activity!

When the children are using strips of colored paper and index cards with scissors (multiple kinds) my explanation is that one child is at the point of snipping with scissors so strips of paper gives him a way to see his progress (he can snip a piece and it falls off).  Another child is cutting across paper.  Index cards are stiffer offering more resistance and are less likely to fold over and collapse as he cuts across.  Another child is using adapted scissors in order to push down on a lever and snip since he doesn't yet have the muscle strength to use typical scissors. 

When the children are exploring sticks, twigs, acorns, pine cones and leaves in the sensory table and another teacher walks in and says "Should he really be playing with that?" I need to be able to articulate WHY I feel it is important that he does, indeed, play with that!  And, I also need to be able to point out that these same items are available outside all the time! 

When we're baking cookies and a child is manipulating cookie dough like play dough and another one is rolling the rolling pin across his head after rolling out the cookie dough, I need to be able to explain to those who work with me why it is NOT better to simply take the cookie dough and shape it for the child or take the rolling pin away from the child and do it for them!

When we are painting with q-tips or cotton balls or bath sponges and a parent stops to comment how "cute" the activity is, I simply comment that, yes, it is cute, and the children are working on fine motor skills while painting with q-tips, they are working to strengthen hand muscles and work those muscles needed for scissor snipping by using a clothespin to clip the cotton ball and paint and they are exploring the textures and variations of the bath sponges and experimenting with the types of prints these make.

Even with very open ended, child-initiated play, there can be a clear and defined reason for presenting certain materials.  Why would we open up every area in our outdoor classroom if we're pretty sure the children may not even explore the tree cookies?  Well, we want to make sure these are an OPTION for the children to explore!  If they are never available, how will we ever know if the children will explore them?  And one day they may surprise us by using these in a unique and wonderful way!

Perhaps where you teach, you ARE the administrator.  Perhaps you have the ability to do what you want, when you want!  I would still argue that you should question what the purpose is behind activities/ materials/decisions!  Go ahead!  Question yourself!  Question your colleagues!  Feel free to start a dialogue about things you feel strongly about!   

You just might find out something new about someone else!  You also may tap into an area someone knows more about than you do!  And you just may learn something new about yourself, your beliefs, and most importantly, you may grow as a teacher! 

Grab the "How Long is this Hall" Button!

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